For the first time in the history of the Champions League the final is between two teams from the same city. Clubs from the same country have met in the final before but in Real and Atletico Madrid Saturday’s final in Lisbon will have representatives from the same town. Atletico are the underdogs in the betting and in Madrid society.
Real play at the magnificent Bernabeu Stadium in a salubrious part of the city. Their wage bill is three times greater than their city rivals and they have spent almost 1 billion pounds in trying to win the European Cup or Champions League for the tenth time. Real are seen as the establishment club with influence in government. The conspiracy theorists think they get the better of debatable decisions.
Atletico Madrid play their home matches at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in a working class part of town. The contrast between the facilities at the Bernabeu is striking and that is a reflection of the relative financial status of each club. Atletico are a selling club while Real target the best players in the world.
The Madrid derby at the Vicente Calderon Stadium is an opportunity for the supposedly disadvantaged young men from the poor part of the city to make a statement against the establishment. I was fortunate to attend a Madrid derby in 2005 which was preceded by a riot as a few Atletico fans threw missiles at the police.
The Real side included several Galacticos but their best player was David Beckham. From high in the stands there was a perfect view of his range of long passing and vision. Real won the match 3-0 with two goals from Ronaldo and one from Raul. The best player in Atletico colours was a raw but brilliant teenager whose name was Fernando Torres.
The gap in wealth between the two clubs is reflected in the purchase of Gareth Bale by Real Madrid. The former Spurs midfielder is the most expensive player in the history of the game and forms part of the BRB at Real, which also features Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
Bale is now ready to play in a European Cup final and be part of the team that tries to win La Decima, Madrid’s tenth European Cup. Bale sums up the feeling now at the club and his personal aspirations in saying: “I always had confidence in my ability and the fact we are now chasing the 10th title, against our city rivals, is very exciting”.
Bale has scored 21 goals for Real Madrid this season. Even if he scored 50 none will be more spectacular or viewed than the goal that secured the Copa Del Rey against Barcelona. It is hard to recall a more impressive demonstration of pure pace than took him past a Barcelona defender and into the heart of the penalty area.
When Bale arrived at Real much was made of how he may play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. The question was whether the best player in England could operate effectively with the best player in the world. But Bale says Ronaldo has helped him settle into to his new environment, both on and off the field, including advice on the best areas to live.
Real Madrid won the first five European Cups and look upon the competition and the Champions League as the Holy Grail of football. Jose Mourinho was not able to deliver the 10th title and that cost him his job. In view of their status in the game it’s hard to believe that Zinedine Zidane’s wonder goal clinched the club’s last Champions League trophy in 2002.
Luka Modric will never be a Galactico or flamboyant goal scorer. However, his skills and work in midfield have allowed Ronaldo to score his goals. Modric is now a key member of the side and his input will be more significant due to the absence of Xabi Alonso due to suspension. Angel di Maria is another effective player and an important element of the squad.
Atletico Madrid arrive in Lisbon on the back of winning the title in Spain for the first time since 1996. Despite some slip ups towards the end of the campaign they are worthy champions. They won the title the hard way by avoiding defeat against Barcelona at Camp Nou in the final game of the season. Their success is based on teamwork and an effective plan.
Atletico beat Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Champions League. They struggled in the first leg at home but then played a perfect second match by scoring three times on the break. They combined solid defence when it was called for and the flair to score the crucial goals that won them the tie.
Diego Costa is the star striker but the nature of the club’s finances means he looks like being sold to Chelsea in the simmer. He is in the Spanish squad for the World Cup having changed allegiance from Brazil to Spain. It would be a great legacy and parting gift if he was to score in the Champions League final.
The manager of Atletico is Diego Simeone, the player most famous for helping to get David Beckham sent off in the 1998 World Cup. He has brought together a group of hard working individuals to form a team that has taken on and beaten the superpowers of Spanish football. That process could continue in Lisbon on Saturday.